Monday, January 10, 2022

A Reflection on the Baptism of the Lord


A Reflection on the Baptism of the Lord 

This comentary is based on the following readings found in the Lectionary for this feast day celebrated in Year C.: Isaiah: 40:1-5, 9-11; Ps. 1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-30; Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7; Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Each year the Christian Church celebrates the Baptism of the Lord. An incident in the life of Jesus that might leave us asking: Why did the son of God need to be baptized?

A very good question. Scholars point out three different reasons for Jesus doing what even John the Baptist apparently objected to when he said: Whom am I to baptize you?

The first reason proposed for Jesus Baptism is that it allowed Jesus to take advantage of the religious fervor John the Baptist created with his preaching and ministry in Galilee. This makes sense. People are naturally attracted to popular movements, and this would give Jesus an opportunity to build his ministry on that.

The second reason is solidarity. This would allow Jesus to be seen standing in solidarity with his fellow Jews who were flocking to be baptized by John and also all future generations to be baptized. This understanding is comforting. People are naturally attracted to movements where the leader stands in solidarity with them.

The final reason is found in the first reading. Here the prophet Isaiah describes the Messiah as a servant. This too makes sense but in a different way. Instead of connecting Jesus’ baptism to a popular movement or a sense of solidarity it is identifying the Messiah on the basis of what he does, and how he acts, not on who he is seen with.  

It is for this reason that the first public act of Jesus is to submit himself to the baptism of John. Here Jesus doesn’t present himself as Lord and Teacher to John, but rather kneels before John and is washed with the waters of the Jordan. By this humble act Jesus’ launches his public ministry by setting an example for us to follow, come as a servant.

Now fast forward three years later. Jesus’ last lesson he teaches his disciples before he is arrested and crucified, is to go on his knees once again and this time wash the feet of his disciples. When he is done he says: “If I your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13: 14-15)

In other words, Jesus came to be baptized not to begin a popular movement but rather to make a public statement that he came to serve nor be served.   

For us, then, this means through baptism we have not just joined a church, but rather joined a movement, not based on popularity but on service.

Yes our baptism wipes away original sin, but as the baptismal ritual teaches us it also incorporates us into the royal family of Jesus, as priest, prophet and king; through baptism we become members of the body of Christ.

Jesus’ witnesses reminds us baptism is a gift, not so we can Lord it over others or claim special privileges, but rather to continue Jesus physical servanthood ministry here on earth.

Two years ago in a homily Pope Francis gave to a group of pilgrims who brought their children to him for baptism, he said:

v Christ's humble act at his baptism reveals the authentic identity of those who claim discipleship through baptism: 

v How many — it's sad to say — of the Lord's disciples show off about being disciples of the Lord. A person who shows off isn't a good disciple.

v A good disciple is humble, meek, one who does good without letting himself or herself be seen.

v  The Christian calling is to follow along the path of humility and meekness rather than strutting about and being a show-off.

We recall the Lord’s Baptism each time we remember our Lord and Teacher, as one who came to serve, not to be served. We celebrate the Lord’s Baptism when we turn a memory into an action, by the way we live our life through service.

Baptism is sometimes better explained by children. For example, at a baptism of a new baby, after the priest poured water over the infant’s head the five year old daughter with a quizzical look on her face, turned to her father and whispered: Daddy, why is the priest brainwashing our baby?”

Perhaps Jesus hopes through his example, all those who are baptized are brain washed to believe, they came to serve and not be served.

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